Trash Hauler Reform Bylaw Moves Forward. Streetlight Bylaw To Be Studied

Compost piles at Martin's Farm, Greenfield,MA. Photo: martinsfarmcompst.com

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council, August 15, 2022. Part 2 of 2

This meeting was held in Town Hall and on Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here, beginning at the 3:58 mark.

Present
In Town Hall: President Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Pam Rooney (District 4), Shalini Bahl-Milne, and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5)

On Zoom: Ellisha Walker (at large), Michele Miller (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), and Dorothy Pam (District 3). Anika Lopes (District 4) left prior to this discussion

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Angela Mills (Executive Assistant to the Town Manager), Dave Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager) 

Referral Of Hauler Reform/Composting Policies Endorsed 
Councilors Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Ellisha Walker (at large) and Andy Steinberg (at large) presented a plan to overhaul the trash hauler bylaw (General Bylaw 3.3) so that trash hauling services will be contracted by the town with a company to be determined by competitive bid and to include curbside composting in those services (see also here). Currently, residents who want curbside trash pick up contract individually with a private hauler firm, USA Hauling and Recycling of Enfield, Connecticut. If curbside composting is desired, it is an added charge. Many residents have noted a marked increase in trash fees since USA took over from Amherst Trucking, Alternative Recycling Services, and Duseau in 2019. 

The proposed plan would have the town take bids for a trash hauler to hopefully obtain a more competitive price. Residents could opt out of trash collection and take their trash to the transfer station. The new program would include a “pay as you throw” provision, so that households producing more trash would pay more. Curbside composting would be included in the service. The plan would be phased in starting with single-to four-family residences in January, 2024.

The sponsoring councilors note that up to 50 percent of solid waste is organic and decomposes in a landfill to produce methane which is 10 to 30 times worse than carbon dioxide in terms of contribution to global warming. In addition, most of the state’s solid waste incinerators are located in environmental justice communities and six of the state’s seven landfills are slated to close by 2030. 

Of the 11 most populous municipalities in Western Massachusetts, only Northampton and Amherst do not provide municipal trash hauling or municipal contracts for trash pick-up. Most residents of those communities pay considerably less than Amherst residents. Northampton does not want to decrease the business of the Pedal People bicycle trash service by having a contracted city-wide service.

Former District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont began working on this project 18 months ago. She was informed that the trash hauler policy was under the purview of the Board of Health (BOH). After her presentation to the BOH in October, 2021 the Board endorsed the bylaw change by a unanimous vote in January, 2022. Over a dozen other local and state entities have also given support (see also here).

Concerns voiced by councilors included worries that there would not be enough households wanting the service to garner bids to provide the service, but Shutesbury has been contracting successfully with haulers by competitive bid for more than a decade. As far as increasing the work of town employees, the contract could specify that the administration be done by the company. The nearest commercial composting facility is in Greenfield. When asked why the program was starting with smaller residences, Bahl-Milne said that education, outreach, and monitoring would be easier than in larger complexes, which have a different type of trash pick-up, utilizing dumpsters.

By a 12-0 vote, the matter was referred to the Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO) for a report back to the council in 90 days. 

Updating Of Streetlight Bylaw Referred To TSO
Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) and Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) sponsored a proposal to update the town’s streetlight policy (see also here) , which was written in 2001. Councilors Pam Rooney and Anika Lopes (District 4) also participated in the formulation of the proposal. The councilors conferred with Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring as well.

Hanneke and Devlin Gauthier noted the changes in technology since the streetlight bylaw was written. Most of Amherst’s streetlights now use LED bulbs; but they are in the blue end of the spectrum, which is known to interfere with sleep in people and animals. In addition, lack of shielding contributes to light trespass (light in unwanted areas), sky glow (upward projection of light), and glare (reflection of light from the ground), all of which can disrupt the behavior of nocturnal animals and cause unwanted light in residences.

Several councilors voiced concerns about problems that could arise from significantly decreasing the amount of lighting in town.

Hanneke said that she has been working on this topic for the past seven months after the council received two letters of complaint from a resident on Cottage Street, who stated the streetlight outside her house shined into her bedroom window. Hanneke’s husband also complained to the DPW about a light outside their house. Both were told the existing lights could not be shielded or removed because of the requirements of the existing bylaw.. 

The new policy involves modernizing the fixtures to permit shielding, shifting to bulbs in the warm light spectrum, and dimming lights after 11 p.m. Lighting zones are recommended according to pedestrian and business traffic, with fewer lights in zones where pedestrian traffic is “light” and more lighting within a quarter-mile of village centers. Hanneke cited a study from New York City which stated that the amount of lighting did not affect the crime rate. The proposed policy would only affect the public way, not private property or municipal facilities, and would be phased in over five years.

Several councilors voiced concerns about problems that could arise from significantly decreasing the amount of lighting in town. Pat DeAngelis (District 2) cited Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) Chair Tracy Zafian’s concerns, based on extensive data, about possible increases in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths. Rooney wanted a thorough review of the policy by TAC, which had not yet been consulted. Taub said decreasing street lighting makes her nervous, since many of Amherst’s streets are very dark as it is, and there is a lot of traffic on foot and bicycle after dark, especially in the winter when the sun sets at about 4:30 p.m. She also wondered if TSO has the expertise to evaluate the technical aspects of the proposal.

Cathy Schoen (District 1) also felt that safety was not emphasized adequately in the proposal. Dorothy Pam (District 3) refuted the data from the New York City safety study, saying that crime decreased there because women stopped going out alone at night, and the decrease in crime had nothing to do with lighting on the streets. She said that study does not apply to Amherst.

Rooney suggested splitting the proposed bylaw into two sections: the first dealing with the features of the lights, and the second deciding where the lights should be removed, replaced, or added. Bahl-Milne questioned whether  streetlights should be a priority for the town, since she has heard many more concerns about the conditions of the roads and sidewalks. Hanneke countered that the town has a noise ordinance to deal with disruptions due to noise and should have a means of dealing with disruptions to sleep by light as well. She said she has been working with Smith College astronomy professor James Lowenthal, who helped Pelham draft its new streetlight policy.

The streetlight policy was referred to TSO by a vote of 9-3 with Schoen, Taub, and Bahl-Milne voting no. TSO is to report back to the council within 90 days.

Scoring Rubric Proposed For Appointment Interviews
As part of the Community Resources Committee’s desire to revamp the appointment process for the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, Hanneke proposed instituting a “scoring matrix” to make the ranking of candidates more objective. Pam disagreed with the idea, saying that the application process is already arduous, and the thought of being graded on one’s answers to interview questions might further discourage a diverse range of applicants. Schoen agreed that a scoring method should not be “necessary”.

However, Devlin Gauthier said that an objective method, such as a rubric, might be a way to reduce bias in the decisions. The decision of whether a “scoring matrix” should be used in interviews was referred to the Governance, Organization, and Legislation Committee (GOL) by a 7-5 vote (Pam, Rooney, Schoen, Taub, and Walker voted no)

Jones Library Renovation Cost Overruns To Be Discussed With Council 
In the absence of Jones Library Building Committee council representative Anika Lopes, Bockelman noted that the Jones Library Trustees are examining options for dealing with the estimated $14.6 million increased cost of the Jones Library renovation and expansion. He said that, even using the entire endowment of the library would not be enough to cover the increased cost. The trustees are looking at ways to cut costs, but may come back to the council for a discussion and possible request to increase the authorization for use of town funds.

Bockelman said a request to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to decrease the size of the project was denied.

Pam stated that the plan is “fatally flawed” in that the library counted the college students in the population to be served, thereby justifying an inappropriately large library. She also decried the loss of greenspace in the proposed plans.

The meeting adjourned at 12:31 a.m. The next Town Council meeting will be on September 12. TSO is having a public hearing on parking on Lincoln Avenue on September 15. 

Bahl-Milne noted that this week is the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from Great Britain and its partition into India and Pakistan. She wants to arrange a celebration of town residents of Southeast Asian descent.

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6 thoughts on “Trash Hauler Reform Bylaw Moves Forward. Streetlight Bylaw To Be Studied

  1. Thank you for this post. While I agree that less street lighting in some areas is fine, in others it is not appropriate. The plan for Pine Street would reduce lighting considerably, and this is a street that sees increased foot traffic, especially at night on the weekends. In addition, there is substantial car traffic both during the day and the night. Limiting visibility would not be optimal in this case.

  2. Councilors Hanneke and Devlin Gauthier provided a map with their streetlighting proposal.
    Here is a link to the map: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/62895/8c-Zoning-Map—Lighting-Zones-Major-Roads-Streetscape-and-Approximate-Light-Locations-2022-08-10
    This map indicates the estimated locations of public streetlights if the proposed policy is adopted. When I look at the map, I am concerned for the neighborhoods in Amherst in the new Lighting Zone 1 (LZ1) that would have no streetlights under the proposal, except for the major roadways (Route 9, Main Street, East Pleasant Street, East Hadley Road, etc.) that the neighborhoods are accessed from. These neighborhoods include Orchard Valley, Echo Hill, Amherst Woods, Olympia Drive, Village Park, other neighborhoods west and east of East Hadley Road), and the neighborhoods off East Hadley Road. Although Hanneke and Devlin Gauthier have not provided a map or listing of the streetlights that would be turned off in those neighborhoods, but for the most part, under the current streetlights policy, many of these neighborhoods already have limited streetlighting, with streetlights located just at intersections and in cul-de-sacs. I would hope that instead of turning off so many streetlights, there would be a way to retrofit some streetlights to decrease light pollution and send more of the light downward. Many communities have retrofitted their streetlights to do this. Does residents in these neighborhoods want all their streetlights turned off? To my knowledge, most have not yet been asked. Personally, I worry about the potential transportation safety impacts of so many streetlights being turned off, and think that the goals of reducing light pollution and promoting dark skies should be considered together with the goals of keeping pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers safe at night, and of making Amherst a more age-friendly community, and a compromise approach developed. The National Safety Council has estimated that even though only a quarter of driving in the US is done at night, half of fatal traffic accidents happen at night after dark. An estimated 75% of the traffic accidents (crashes) in which which pedestrians who are are hit and killed each year are at night, and the total number of pedestrian fatalities annually is current at its highest level in years. At night, drivers, especially older drivers, but middle age ones too, doesn’t see as well and don’t see roadway edges, turns, and signs as well, and don’t see pedestrians or bicyclists as well either. And studies have shown that pedestrians and bicyclists at night often over-estimate how visible they are to drivers. The US DOT released a National Roadway Safety Strategy earlier this year (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2022-02/USDOT-National-Roadway-Safety-Strategy.pdf) which calls for lighting to be incorporated into Complete Streets implementation so that lighting becomes a key design factor in roadway upgrades. Having streetlights at key locations in neighborhoods can help with nighttime navigation for visitors, delivery services (such as meal deliveries), and residents including older drivers. Streetlights can also help pedestrians and bicyclists be more visible to drivers at night. Some of the neighborhoods slated for fewer or no streetlights have sizeable populations of residents who don’t have cars and walk or use buses for transportation (and taking the bus can involve walking too), and don’t have sidewalks. I hope that the Town Council will consider such factors as Hanneke’s and Devlin Gauthier’s proposal advances for review and revision.

  3. Can’t we all just chip in and buy Councilor Hanneke’s husband a better window shade?

  4. Regarding the Proposed Council Changes To Streetlight Bylaw:
    So, apparently there are not enough immediate issues facing the Town/Council. Why vigorously address the current disrepair of the roads and sidewalks themselves, when a few people have decided that time, energy and money should be spent NOW on a total revamping of the street lighting system. I’m curious to know just how many tax-payers requested this, and the streets on which they reside.* I would guess that such information would pale by comparison to that of, oh, I don’t know, that of those who have long and repeatedly requested traffic calming measures for their neighborhoods. Once again, the priorities of a few for the many?

    *Two Cottage Street residents and one from Foxglove Lane. Seriously?

  5. Residents of North Prospect Street have long requested street calming through discouraging its use as a cut-through, installation of speed bumps, and more recently a petition for a speed limit sign. Right now there isn’t even a sign on our street with any speed limit. We would appreciate some consideration in the priority setting, please.

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